by Reggie Fullwood
Every day, every week, month and year we become more removed from some of the struggles of the past. For African Americans, our history in this country has been one of extreme challenge and great achievement. For older blacks, the Civil Rights Movement and leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. are still very relevant and unforgettable.
For younger blacks, the story is quite different. Often times they have no frame of reference at all when it comes tosegregation, Jim Crow laws, racism and bigotry. Many black youth view slavery and civil rights struggles the same way they view dinosaurs – interesting, but it was a long time ago.
Movies like Twelve Years a Slave and Selma do help bring the past into a present day context, but they are still movies.
The African American story is unique. The story of blacks in America is truly a story of tragedy and triumph. At the center of that story are great men and women like Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglas and Malcolm X who helped mold black progress in this country.
This week, we honored a man whose name has become synonymous with peaceful protest and fighting for equality, support of the poor and justice for all – Dr. Martin Luther King.
We talk a lot about “his dream,” but Dr. King’s life can’t be defined by the March on Washington and his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Dr. King’s life cannot be defined by his personal achievements. One has to look at his life for what he fought for and how he helped to change the racial landscape of our country and the world.
King certainly wasn’t the only one who fought against injustice and inequality, but much like Rosa Parks – he was the right man at the right place at the right time.
He was a great writer and speaker and an outstanding diplomat. He was the perfect man for the job. With a bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other, his intelligence and vision were unmatched. And more important than all of that he was extremely unselfish and realized that the movement wasn’t about him.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,” said King. And that is essentially how good leaders are measured – how they handle the ship when the seas were choppy not when they were calm.
Every movement, every cause, every organization needs a leader and figurehead and Martin Luther King embodied what it meant to be a true leader. At the helm of the most important movement in this country’s history – at least in my opinion was a man named Martin. He was a man who wasn’t perfect, but as I said earlier was perfect for the job.
It was almost prophetic when Dr. King spoke on April 3, 1968, and said, “I have been to the mountain top and seen the Promised Land.” He went on to say that he probably would not be here on this earth to see it, but he knew that blacks would truly gain equality in this country.
Dr. King said, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.
“And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
I can envision King looking down from heaven during the first Tuesday evening in November of 2008 when President Obama was elected.
With a smile on his face and maybe even tears flowing from his eyes, he might just think back to his “I Have a Dream” speech. One of the most common yet prolific lines was, ““I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
By electing Barack Obama, America proved that as a country we have come “a mighty long way,” as my grandma would say, but we certainly still have a long way to go as it relates to human rights and racism.
But again, we have come a very long way and Dr. King would be proud of the progress that we (Americans) have made. I can hear him saying, “The line of progress is never straight. For a period of movement may follow a straight line and then it encounters obstacles and the path bends.”
Let’s not forget that this is a holiday that is not just about a day off, but a day to reflect on King’s accomplishment and the continued fight for equality and justice. And more importantly, we can’t rely on schools to teach our children about people like Dr. King – as parents we should take the lead.
Signing off from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA,